HE WAS once a “bit of a rogue” at his local golf club, sneaking into the lounge to play the fruit machine after buying the post-round reward for any junior at the time – a half pint of cola, a Mars Bar and a chip roll.
Stephen Gallacher was also often out on the fairways at Bathgate when he should have been in school but recalls with a smile that, having discovered he was unlikely to become a brain surgeon, playing as much golf as he possibly could was easily the better option.
Returning to his roots yesterday to reflect on earning a wildcard for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles later this month, Gallacher looked very much at home and had only just walked through the door when it became apparent that he’s still one of the Bathgate boys.
“We whipped you and your dad in a match back in 1994 and you still haven’t paid the £2 bet – with interest added on you must owe me a few thousand now,” quipped one member after he’d congratulated Gallacher on opening a new chapter in the West Lothian club’s rich Ryder Cup history.
As the walls of the clubhouse and a special cabinet bear testament, Bathgate boasts a remarkable claim when it comes to the biennial event, having seen two of its home-grown products – Eric Brown and Bernard Gallacher, Stephen’s uncle – not only play in the match but also become captains. That a third member is about to take the first of those two steps is astonishing.
“Bernard’s picture has been up since 1977 and as long as I’ve been a member here Eric Brown has been up there,” said Gallacher, gazing at portraits of the duo. “To have three Ryder Cup players here is amazing. This is a proper mining village, not a big club, and to be part of the history of the club is massive.”
While Kingsfield Golf Centre, close to his home on the outskirts of Linlithgow, has become the 39-year-old’s main base for practising, Bathgate will always be at the heart of the Gallacher golfing dynasty.
“I think my name was down to join here ten minutes after I was born,” he added. “I think my dad [Jim] came straight here and put my form in when he knew it was a boy. That’s what it’s like here. My granddad [Barney] was a member, my gran’s brother was a former captain, my dad’s been a captain and club champion, Bernard was obviously here – and now my son [Jack] plays here.
“My uncle was the junior convener here, so he was always the one who pushed me on. I used to go to Polkemmet driving range every night in the winter, when you had to scrape the mats before you started.”
Back at Bathgate, where pictures of some his own triumphs, notably becoming the first player in the event’s 25-year history to retain the Dubai Desert Classic title, adorn walls, too, Gallacher recalled: “I was a bit of rogue, probably playing the fruit machine when I wasn’t meant to or playing too many shots on to the greens and getting a row for that.
“When we were playing as juniors, we were thinking about the Ryder Cup as it is the big thing at this club. Maybe at Deeside it’ll be the Open, because of Paul [Lawrie]. Your club gets associated with its best accolade. That’s what it is here.”
Through his flourishing Foundation, schoolchildren in West Lothian are currently receiving golf coaching, the irony of which is not lost on Gallacher. “I was never going to be a brain surgeon,” he said, recalling his own education. “I used to go to school in the morning and my mate would bring my bag home in the afternoon. I’d be on the ninth by then. Especially if it was sunny. My teachers used to look out the window and if it was nice they’d just say ‘Ah, he’ll not be here’.
“My PE teacher was club captain here and, when I was supposed to be in his Higher PE class, he used to let me go and play golf instead. It’s something that I’m trying to get into the schools through my Foundation – but we’re doing it legally now! I keep saying to the kids whenever they come down, ‘Is this not better than school?’”
When it came to golf teachers, Gallacher learned from a master in Bob Torrance. Sadly, he passed away during this year’s Open Championship, but he’ll never be forgotten by his long-time pupil. Indeed, one of the first phone calls he made after being told on Monday night by Paul McGinley then Sam Torrance that he’d been selected along with Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood was to Bob’s widow, June.
“Sam phoned me to say, ‘You’re in, don’t tell anybody’, so I phoned his mum,” revealed Gallacher, laughing. “Bob was a big part of my life and the last time I was down to see him, sadly two weeks before he passed away, he was sitting in his chair and he said, ‘You know, one of the happiest things in my life will be if you get in the Ryder Cup’.
“He really meant it, he knew it’s been a big thing for all my days and just for him to say that was great. He always used to say these are the happiest days of your life, enjoy it. He was a great motivator, a brilliant coach and a big part of my life, so it was a sad day when he passed.”
Given that Torrance also coached McGinley and Sam, of course, tears could be flowing at Gleneagles. “He’d been a big influence on me and on Paul – I know he is gutted that Bob is not going to be there to watch him be captain,” added Gallacher. “Last year, he told him, ‘Bob, there’s only two penthouses at Gleneagles and you’re in one of them’. So he was close to Paul and, especially with Sam being there, too, it will be an emotional week for the three of us.”